Thursday, March 25, 2010


For a brief historical period there was an outpouring of essays and poems in praise of idleness. The writers, almost all male, ignored the fact their pleasant state was based on the labour of others, coal-miners and house-maids. Such writing would get shorter shift now in this period with its heightened work-ethic.

Ever since human beings created civilisation it has been based on interdependence and infrastructure. And within that system, welfare was, is and will continue to be an issue/challenge/problem. It’s like a hippo in a swimming pool – too big to be ignored, too big to be got rid of.

A fair and just welfare policy is a worthy objective deserving pursuit. I fear Social Development minister Paula Bennett’s announcement earlier this week that ‘the dream is over’ signals a return to the harsh mean-spiritedness of earlier years.

I accept that there are some people who do bludge off the system. I also accept something should be done about them. But they are not the only ones who from a sense of entitlement bludge off the tax-payer. Tax evasion, dodgy expense accounts, pilfering, all are forms of bludging.

But to bash the beneficiaries has always been a vote-catching sport. It’s good political timing to have a go at the point controversial mining proposals are being advanced.

How do you target beneficiaries? Administrators have to be careful in targeting people like that, that they do not hit those who deserve assistance. The government prides itself on public service cuts. Means testing leads to extra staff being required to assess and monitor each claim.

Does the dream is over mean that we as a community do not care about the vulnerable, sick, poor, frail and disabled? That care is one of the measures of a society.

Does it mean the dream is over for a solo mum who has a permanently sick child? Will she be assessed so regularly she’ll feel harassed? Will the system for her be charitable or ruthlessly efficient?

The policy seems a muddle. The changes will not only perpetuate inequality, they as announced will  increase it within the nation.

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